😀 😀 😀 😀
When the body of first-year student Emily Brabents is found floating in the weir, it falls to recently promoted Detective Inspector Erica Martin to investigate. Having just transferred to the Durham force, Martin soon discovers what a huge part the prestigious University plays in this city, and the pressure is on to get a quick result before there’s too much bad publicity. But as Martin begins her investigation, she discovers that underneath the ancient traditions and academic reputation, Joyce College is awash with sex, secrets and online trolling. And pretty young Emily, desperate to be popular, has been at the centre of much of it, with sexually explicit photographs and videos of her appearing on Facebook, attracting the attention of every bully and troll in the College. But was she the victim of male manipulation that she at first sight would appear to be, or was she deliberately flaunting herself in some kind of skewed vision of feminism? Did the murder have something to do with the trolling or was there another motive – perhaps even something to do with her life outside University? When another student promptly confesses to the crime it looks as if everything will be tied up quickly, but DI Martin’s not convinced…
This is an excellent début novel. It’s primarily a police procedural, but one that focuses as much on the psychology of the culture that led to the crime as on who committed it. It’s hard hitting, and the storyline means that it is pretty sexually graphic, even salacious, at times – but only within the demands of the plot, so I didn’t feel it was gratuitous. Bit too much swearing for my taste, but what’s new there, eh? (One wonders if crime writers have to replace the f-key on their computers every ten thousand words or so…)
The story is told mainly from DI Martin’s viewpoint, though in the third person (past tense – yay!). She’s (and I can’t tell you how excited I am to say this) NOT a maverick! Instead, she’s an intelligent, dedicated officer who remains sober throughout, doesn’t break any laws (well, only one tiny one and she gets her knuckles duly rapped for it), doesn’t sleep with anyone except her partner, and doesn’t beat anyone up! I think I’m in love! Joking aside, she’s reasonably well developed in this one but there’s plenty of room for her character to grow in later books. We don’t see much of her outside work, but it’s clear her relationship is in difficulty, and at work she meets with the usual sexism, both of which did cause me to yawn just a little. But these aspects are merely touched on – the book concentrates almost entirely on the crime and the investigation, which I found deeply refreshing.
We also get to see the story from a different angle – through the journal of another student, Daniel Shepherd. Clark-Platts’ writing here is very skilful – Daniel’s voice is quite different to the main narrative. As an enthusiastic student of classic literature, he writes in a slightly overblown way – not enough to be annoying, but it gives him a very distinctive style of his own. He’s a bit of a loner, with a chip on his shoulder about the rich kids in the top colleges, to whom everything seems to come so easily. When the trolling of Emily begins, he at first provides a handy shoulder for her to cry on, but he soon feels he’d be willing to do almost anything to protect her.
The investigation element drags a bit in the middle with Martin putting off interviews with some of the major characters till later – clearly so there than can be a dramatic climax, but it didn’t feel wholly credible. But the first section is very strong as we get to know all the characters and begin to find out about what’s been happening in the college, and the ending is really great. Even when it becomes clear who the killer is, there’s real tension in working out the why of it all and seeing if Martin will be able to get some kind of justice for Emily. The whole psychology of it is the most interesting part and felt to me very real – not just the motivations of both Emily and the killer, but how an institution can develop a kind of sick culture that drags everyone into it, willing or not.
One of the most promising débuts I’ve read in crime fiction for a long time – I’m very much looking forward to meeting DI Martin again.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Penguin UK – Michael Joseph.